For most of my career, I’ve looked forward to the weekend. Honestly – I still look forward to the weekend. Weekends are amazing. It’s the time when I get to do all the work I’ve been neglecting during the week. Sometimes it’s yard work. Sometimes it’s other honey-dos. And sometimes, it’s back at the office hacking through expense receipts and reports. That’s overstating things a bit. I do get out for a long run, ride or even better, a hike with my family. ‘Weekend time’ flies by and it’s back to work, when (for most of my career) time slows back down to normal speed or sometimes even agonizingly slow.
Tomorrow’s Wednesday. Actually for all my buddies in India, it’s already tomorrow. And that seems fitting, because by the time I get to tomorrow, it’s going to be Friday. Another week will have zipped past at warp speed, and I’m back to the weekend. So, if you live for the weekend then startup life must sound great because it always feels like it’s the weekend. But in startup mode, every single day, every single hour is a precious commodity. It’s another day of runway. It’s gold. A wasted day isn’t just an unproductive day, a wasted day is a wasted dollar. And that dollar came out of my pocket or from my investors. I know it’s overstating things a bit – but for me, these are sacred funds. People are trusting us to create wealth from that investment. AND WE WILL.
The whole thing reminds me of my endless efforts to qualify for Boston. I was allotted 3 hours and 15 minutes to run 26.2 miles. In my first marathons, I would run the early miles too fast and then be gassed at the end. I’d make a plan of how to best use those 195 minutes and for 8 marathons, I just couldn’t find the right balance of speed to qualify. In the end, I trained harder and ran faster and smarter. And, that’s what we’re doing now. We have so much to do.
I came into this pretty naive. I understood very little about the importance to balance the early miles (product – customer fit) with the late miles (go to market and scale the business). I’m incredibly thankful for great mentors and advisors who continue to encourage an provide feedback. In our first CEO summit with Kickstart Venture Fund, several different CEOs and investors reiterated the need to ‘go slow – so you can go fast.’ It’s amazing how the whole experience parallels with the marathon.
The gun goes off… we’re setting up the office, buying equipment using the white boards for the first time. The adrenaline is amazing. I feel like I could sprint out 5 minute miles for the next 10 years. That lasts for a few weeks or months. Then the scope of what’s ahead really sets in.
When I’m running, I call them the middle miles. The excitement from the start is gone, and the finish line is hours away. At this point, it’s just one foot in front of the other. The year I broke 3 hours (that was a big deal for me)… for most of the middle miles, I repeated 2 mantras. “Mental barriers are imaginary.” And, “ 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3.” 3 strides per second is supposed to be the most efficient cadence. So I just kept hammering away… 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3…
One of my angel advisors calls it the ‘slog.’ We all tend of overestimate what we can accomplish in the short term and under estimate what we can accomplish in the long term. In the marathon (assuming you’ve at least partially trained), you’re going to make it to the end. You might end up slowing down and walking. But, if you want it bad enough. You’ll make it to the end. But if you QUIT? GAME OVER.
Back in the startup, we’re executing 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3. We are sorting out any kinks in the product, process and support. Manually working much of what will be automated next year allows us to quickly see the problems with our assumptions. New functionality releases are completing with more predictability. Testing is being automated. It’s beyond silly how much there is to do. But, 1-2-3, 1-2-3 and we’re pounding through the middle miles. Looking back, it’s amazing how far we’ve come… and so fast. But our vision is HUGE and there’s no time to sit down and rest. Those lost minutes really hurt when you miss qualifying by less than 60 seconds. I was within 2 minutes 4-3 times before my 8th marathon when I finally qualified. OUCH!
One of my fears trying to qualify for Boston was that I would simply qualify by turning 40. Not faster, just older. These days, I’m over 50, and I get an extra 15 minutes. If only getting older would make the startup life easier. Maybe it does in some ways. I’m no longer the yappy 25 year old puppy spinning circles and wasting energy with flashy moves. I’m not slow, but I have learned to be deliberate and invest the time, effort and money where it’s most important.
So what’s the lesson? DON’T QUIT. It’s easy to start and run fast when the gun goes off. Avoid the temptation to do cartwheels, throw a parade, and sing songs… For sure, don’t get caught up thinking you’re some superhero, too fast, or too smart to fail. If that’s your game. Prepare for failure. Keep your sights on the finish line. Learn, grow, adapt, and execute. The fact that you had enough courage to step and start the race. And now you’re in the middle miles… the finish line is just 1-2-3 steps away (repeated 10-20 thousand times). You’ll get there!
Oh ya. One of the best things about the marathon is the people along the way. Never miss the opportunity to share an encouraging word, or help someone in need. It’s highly likely that sometime before the finish line, you’ll be needing that helping hand and encouragement.
“Start Slow – Finish Fast!” … or as they say in Boston “Run FASTAH!”